Editorial: More rigorous oversight needed of funeral home
Few incidents in recent Michigan history have been as horrifying as the discovery of the bodies of 11 infants hidden in a Detroit funeral home.
The remains were packed together in a box and a casket as if they were old Christmas decorations, and tucked away in a closet crawlspace of the Cantrell Funeral Home on Detroit's east side.
The funeral home was shut down in April after state inspectors found decomposing remains and "deplorable conditions" inside the mortuary, which had operated in Detroit for decade.
The dead babies were discovered after the new owner of the building received a tip from a former funeral home employee.
It would be bad enough if this were an isolated incident. But Michigan has had a string of such egregious neglect by funeral homes.
Last year, one of 10 bodies found in the unrefrigerated garage of the Swanson Funeral Home in Flint was not embalmed and had been there for about six weeks. Despite complaints filed against the business by the Michigan Attorney General's office, the home remained open for another six weeks, when more bodies were discovered in the garage.
In 2016, a West Michigan funeral director was cited by the state for burying an empty urn and misleading a family into thinking it held the remains of their loved ones.
Clearly, this is an industry that has a problem and needs more attention from state regulators.
While many states require annual inspections of funeral homes, Michigan is not among them.
The state only reviews funeral homes when they apply for a license, or when a complaint is filed.
That's not enough oversight. Mortuaries can potentially impact public health. Many of these funeral homes, including Cantrell, are in residential neighborhoods. Having rotting bodies stashed in buildings so close to family homes is, to say the least, not sanitary.
Jurisdiction for funeral homes in Michigan rests with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. It is advised by an appointed nine-member Board of Examiners for Mortuary Science.
The disgusting disregard for the trust of their customers by some funeral homes suggests that more oversight is needed.
Michigan should move to annual inspections of funeral homes, and stiffen penalties for the callous mistreatment of human remains.
We can't imagine the anguish of the families of those children whose bodies were discovered inside that Cantrell ceiling.
This nightmare should move the state to take a stronger role in protecting both funeral home customers and the public health.